Medical Moment: TikTok causing mental health ‘crisis’ in teens, experts warn

Published: Jan. 13, 2023 at 5:41 PM EST
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(WNDU) - The Seattle School District is suing social media companies, saying their companies are ruining students’ mental health.

Some psychologists agree.

In just five years, TikTok has amassed more than 1,000,000,000 global users. Eyeballs around the world are glued to the endless content and viral videos.

Last month, the U.S. government, along with more than a dozen states, banned TikTok on most federal devices citing national security concerns over its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, and the possibility it could pressure TikTok to hand over personal data.

There is no evidence the Chinese government has done that.

But there is evidence of another risk. Social media’s impact on mental health, particularly among Gen-Z.

“Teen depression started to rise after 2012, so did self-harm and suicide,” said Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego University.

Dr. Jean Twenge says that as smartphones and social media grew, so did the rate of depression among teens. Nearly doubling between 2004 and 2019. By that year, 1 in 4 teen girls in the U.S. reported having experienced clinical depression, according to Dr. Tenge.

“There’s pro-anorexia videos, there’s videos instruct people how to cut themselves,” Dr. Twenge explained. “What the algorithm’s trying to do is get people to use the app for longer. Because that’s how the company makes more money.”

Users of TikTok spent an average of an hour-and -a-half day on the app last year, more than any other social platform.

Some users even report losing sleep over usage of the app.

“I’ve definitely done all-nighters on TikTok before,” described Jerome Yankey, a user who uninstalled the app in 2021. “I’d just be scrolling until the sun came up.”

He says he lost sleep, his grades suffered, he lost touch with his friends, and he lost his sense of self. He deleted the app in 2021.

“Getting disappointed by my own life, it’s never something I want to be doing, especially when I have the power to change it. But I just wasn’t because I was spending hours on this app,” Yankey said.

But Hannah Williams proves the positive side of TikTok, allowing her to create a business, Salary Transparent Street, providing pay transparency to her nearly 1,000,000 followers.

“I think TikTok definitely helped just because they have such audience reach potential,” Williams said. “Helping people and marginalized communities is the only reason I am doing this. It’s my entire mission.”

In July, TikTok announced that it would introduce new ways to filter out “potentially problematic” videos. It has also recently rolled out a tool that helps people decide how much time they want to spend on the app.